World-record pilots set down in Smith Valley
The entire student body, school staff and many interested onlookers filled the bleachers and lined the track that encircled the football field of the Smith Valley combined high school and elementary school last Thursday. All this was in anticipation of the arrival of world-record-holding co-pilots, Colin Bodill and Jennifer Murray. The pilots, scheduled to arrive on the football field at 1:30 p.m., would be making a three-day rest stop in the valley enroute to complete another record-breaking flight attempt to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole in their cherry red Bell 407 helicopter.
As the crowd scanned the clear skies above the valley, minutes ticked by, and the 1:30 anticipated arrival time came and went. Finally, the sound of helicopter blades could be heard and off to the southeast a dark speck appeared. Within minutes, the craft was circling overhead and set down in the middle of the field at 1:55 p.m.
“We thought we had left masses of time for getting here on Thursday,” Murray said. “We had 15 knots of head winds as we headed east over the Grand Canyon, and the reverse as we turned back and got on course for Smith Valley. We thought we could cut the corner and route north of Las Vegas, only to find it was restricted airspace – all military.”
The pilots took a more cautious route and went south and came around again, only to encounter the head winds again. They worried that their estimated time of arrival would be delayed and, about all the children waiting for them, as well as the local press.
“We flew low level, mostly 300 AGL to reduce the head winds as much as possible and managed to touch down at 1:55 p.m. on the football pitch to an ecstatic welcome and a million questions from all the children,” Murray said.
The pilots would be the guests of Murray’s cousin, Georgia Fulstone and her husband Dick who own Fulstone Ranches in the valley.
As the blades came to a full stop, Georgia made her way to the door of the helicopter and was greeted with a tired, but energetic hug from Murray. The pilots got a chance to meet one of Charles Lindberg’s distant relatives, George Walker of Topaz Ranch Estates. Then, with bull horn in hand, both the pilots spoke a few words to the student body and guests before allowing everyone to converge on to the field and get a closer look at the vehicle that had transported them over half way around the world.
A flood of children circled the pilots as questions and well wishes filled the air from all directions. Murray reached in her flight suit and produced some patches which she gave to each of the students. Then making their way back toward the helicopter they brought out copies of their picture, which they both autographed for all who wanted one.
The next few days would not allow much rest for the duo. After moving the helicopter to the gardens on the Fulstone Ranch, they would spend that evening giving a talk and presentation at the Rotary Club dinner that took place in the Heyday Inn, Wellington. Friday was another visit to the school and the student body who had been one of 26 schools in the world to participate in the Royal Geographical Society of London online environmental program. They then flew their helicopter over to the family owned Rosachi Airfield where they purchased 80 gallons of jet fuel – enough to top them off to reach their next destination, Oakland, Calif. Another reception took place at the Smith Valley Library Friday evening, where they showed a documentary of their crash in Antarctica on their previous attempt at this world record in December 2003. Saturday morning was a brunch with the 11 Ninety Niners (an organization of women pilots) and one Whirley Girl, organized by Ninety Niner, Jeanne Pearce. Saturday night would be reserved for family and much needed rest before taking off again with a stop enroute for lunch at the Truckee Airfield and a meeting with more Ninety Niners.
Murray, 66, was born in Providence, R.I. Her mother was American and her father was British. The family moved to the United Kingdom in 1944 where Murray received her education. She attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London with a degree in textile design. She is an accomplished watercolor artist with exhibitions in Hong Kong and Switzerland.
“Flying only entered my life at the grand old age of 54,” Murray said, “when my husband, Simon, bought a half share of a helicopter and said he didn’t have time to learn so I better have a go. So I did.”
This flying has brought her world acclaim and induction to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997. In 2000, Murray and Bodill broke more records by flying around the world in their craft faster than anybody else. In 2001, they flew in the London Sydney Air Race , setting a new world speed record.
Murray has three children: Justin, Suzanna and Christy and five grandchildren.
Bodill, 56, was born in Nottingham, U.K. Educated in the U.K., he graduated from Technical College and started hang gliding in 1975 and was involved in the testing and design of the first hang gliding models. His long career in competitive flights has garnered him many awards and world records. He has two children and he still lives in Nottingham.
In 2003, Murray and Bodill made their first unsuccessful attempt at a world record for their flight around the world, pole to pole, in a helicopter. They were the first to fly a single engine civilian helicopter across Drakes Passage and flew the first single engine civilian helicopter to the South Pole. Their dreams were shattered, and nearly their lives, on Dec. 20, 2003, when they crashed in white-out conditions just two days after reaching the South Pole. They both received serious injuries and came within 20 minutes of freezing to death. They would revisit the site of the crash, Jan. 11.
Seventy miles to the south of the Patriot Hills in Antarctica, the pilots put down at the site of the crash, but the wreck of the helicopter had been removed during the summer seasons of 2004-05.
“When we crashed, the key to the helicopter had been in Colin’s pocket,” Murray said. “He told me about it when he said, ‘I have a surprise for you,'” There was nothing left to mark the spot of the crash until the pilots revisited the site on this flight and buried the key there. Murray has written a book about their experience called “Broken Journey” which is available online through Amazon.com.
The pilots have just one month left to complete their journey and less than 14,000 nautical miles to fly. From here they will continue up the Pacific Coast through Vancouver and on to Alaska, hoping to reach the North Pole by April 12 where they plan to return to Ft. Worth, Texas, their starting point, via Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Holland, UK, Scotland, Faeroes, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and back to the United States, landing in Ft. Worth on May 23.
You may follow their world-record-flight on their Web site and read all about their adventures.